Strong fallibilism

Fallibilism, as originally formulated by Peirce, claims that “people cannot attain absolute certainty concerning questions of fact.” Wikipedia sums it up with three claims: “1) No beliefs can be conclusively justified. 2) Knowledge does not require certainty. 3) Almost no basic (that is, non-inferred) beliefs are certain or conclusively justified.” In sum, “fallibilism is an admission that, because empirical knowledge can be revised by further observation, any of the things we take as empirical knowledge might turn out to be false. However, fallibilists typically accept that many beliefs can be considered certain beyond reasonable doubt and therefore acted upon, allowing us to live functional and meaningful lives.

Fallibilism supports practical action without certainty of truth.

A strong fallibilism, however, would support progress with certainty of falsehood.

It would see truth as essentially partial (shot through with tradeoffs), as tentative (useful only to some finite degree) and fragile (breakable through scrutiny).

The strongest fallibilism, however, sees falsehood in truth as a guarantee of freedom. Any oppressive truth can, at least in principle, be interrogated, weakened, overthrown and replaced, though not with a truth of one’s choice, but rather with whatever successor truth ascends. That truth, however, is also vulnerable.

Truths are secure only when they govern with our assent.

With this in mind, however, we should not frivolously overthrow truths solely because they can be overthrown. Of course they can be overthrown. But what we love we protect, maintain and honor.

4 thoughts on “Strong fallibilism

  1. Fructivism extends fallibilism. It adds a fourth claim: All fruitful reconceptualizations entail the overturning/failure of a prior truth.

    In doing so, it puts a positive spin on the negative connotations of fallibilism: new truths will perpetually emerge from the overturning of old truths.

      1. Langer has this beautiful quote of CD Burns on this point: “All the great philosophers have allowed for more than they could explain, and have, therefore, signed beforehand, if not dated, the death-warrant of their philosophies.”

    1. One of the things that clients often don’t get about design research is that one of the most important things we do is induce crises, which means to create conditions where normal methods stop working and the only way out is philosophy (as Wittgenstein defined it). As long as we use the usual methods we will produce the usual results. Unlearning old conceptions and acquiring new ones is the surest route to innovation. “Think different” means philosophizing destructively and clearing ground (North) then constructively on the cleared ground (East).

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